The French, though, may soon have to think up a fresh one if (and you can almost hear Mitterrand starting to turn in his grave) the United States elects a president who delivers speeches like the one Senator Barack Obama gave on race while this country has its first modern leader not to have graduated from the country’s upper-crust schools, a head of state who on a recent visit to the Vatican arrived late, with an exceptionally crude French stand-up comic named Jean-Marie Bigard in tow.There's a lot going on there, including imaginary prognostication by a French corpse and the assurance that someone we've never heard of is not just crude but "exceptionally crude." Is he?
But let's think about the way Barack Obama is shoehorned into that crowded sentence. I get the feeling that the NYT would like to excite its readers with the thrill of an erudite American President who would require the French to look upon us with admiration. The reference to Obama's race speech is supposed to cue us to think about Obama as someone who is the opposite of lowbrow, even though a speech about social psychology is not about taste in music, art, and literature.
Is there any evidence that Obama has highbrow tastes? I just read his memoir and I remember no references to lofty aesthetic interests. In the music category, there was a mention of Stevie Wonder. I don't remember anything about art or any difficult works of literature. He does say he watched a lot of TV when he lived with his grandfather.
But, okay, let's assume the race speech is exquisitely crafted and that delivering it is the equivalent of showing deep appreciation for high art. Does it help Obama that the NYT is enthusing over the prospect of one-upping the French in lofty attitude? This isn't the week when we're swooning over his well-honed rhetoric. It's the week when were worried about his professorial musings that the common people weren't supposed to hear. It's scarcely the time when Obama needs to be promoted as highbrow and Frenchy.